Nebraska’s offensive line is in an interesting spot early in fall camp. In some spots, the line is as solid as can be with returning starters who have a lot of snaps under their belts. Elsewhere, the Huskers have a lot of youth and inexperience including at key spots.
Nebraska returns both of its starting tackles in juniors Brendan Jaimes and Matt Farniok, and those two have embraced being leaders. Farniok has grown into one of the more vocal players on the team.
“Those guys are emerging as leaders,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said. “They’re doing a good job. In order to be a leader, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable first and then start holding others accountable, and certainly those guys are doing a good job of both.”
Austin said having veterans in the room like those tackles and junior guard Boe Wilson and even senior reserve tackle Christian Gaylord plus a couple others is “super valuable” for a room with six true freshman scholarship players and 19 underclassmen in total.
“Last year, the coaches were coaching the schemes and the techniques,” Austin said. “When we go to walk-through, the old guys — and not just those three leaders, certainly those three leaders but some of the guys that have been here … The veteran guys, they teach it to those [young] guys and sometimes I’m over there and I’m going to correct a guy and an older guy has already put his arm around the young guy and said, ‘Hey, here’s how you do it.’ What an awesome deal because now I can focus my attention on this or on that rather than trying to coach everybody at the same exact time. The practice moves along more efficiently when we do it that way. Those guys are taking an ownership and it’s awesome. It’s very encouraging to see that those guys are taking that lead.”
The result of that player leadership and a second offseason in the same system is improving depth in the trenches for the Huskers.
“We have more depth,” Austin said. “We have more trustable bodies is the best way to say it, more guys that you can trust know what they’re doing, know what the expectation is, what the standard is and are more familiar with what we’re doing.”
Austin said he only had six or seven “trustable bodies” last year, which is consistent with what Austin said throughout last season when asked if any of the guys on the bench were pushing the starters.
At this point, Austin said that number has grown to 12, and that’s after losing three of those trustable bodies from last year’s rotation of six or seven. Whether or not any true freshmen are included in that group or are able to break into it down the line is still to be determined. Seeing the field as a true freshman is not easy because of both the physical and mental obstacles.
“Both, but I would say the mental side is a bigger challenge because physically, you either have it or you don’t,” Austin said. “Either you have it or you don’t from a physical standpoint. Either you’re strong or you’re not. Skill-wise, you’re always building on your skills; certainly you’re deficient a little bit just because you’re carrying some high school skills with you to college. But mentally, it’s a tough deal because for one you’ve got to learn it, then you have to learn the adjustments, and then you have to learn the defensive adjustments; you have to learn the fullness of everything. It has to happen so quick with all the different fronts and stunts and blitzes and looks that you’re going to see form the defense. It’s a tough deal. You really, really have to be a mature kid in order to play as a true freshman.”
Austin wouldn’t mention any names, but he did mention that a couple of true freshmen that might have what it takes to see the field.
“They have the maturity,” Austin said. “They’re acquiring the skill. Physically, Zach [Duval] is doing a heck of a job with the whole team certainly but those two guys are busting their tails in the weight room as well.”
One of those guys might very well be tackle Bryce Benhart who was running with the second unit at right tackle during the open portion of Wednesday’s practice.
“He’s progressing well, picking up the offense, learning it,” Austin said about the 6-foot-9, 305-pound tackle from Lakeville, Minnesota. “To come in as a true freshman is always hard to do and he’s doing a pretty good job of it, understanding the offense. You can see daily progress from Bryce.”
Austin said it’s too soon to know whether Benhart is a candidate to burn his redshirt this season.
“But,” Austin said, “tomorrow and Friday, they’re going to mean a lot to him and where we feel like he’s going to fit into the full puzzle in the grand scheme of things this year.”
As a group, Austin said the true freshman have adjusted well and hit the ground running, which is as much a compliment to the rest of the team as it is to the freshmen.
“That’s a culture deal,” Austin said. “The culture is going to make the young guys come in and attack or it’s going to make them come in and be the young, immature kids that they are. Generally speaking, our culture is pretty strong right now and those young guys are just falling in line.”
The position battles will continue to rage throughout the fall, but it sounds like Austin feels a lot better about the collection of talent in his room than he did a year ago.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.